The In-Store Shopping Experience That Will Get Customers Out of Their Houses

Online shopping is here to stay, but there’s also a palpable joy people get when shopping at stores. While 2020 incited a massive rise in eCommerce, our Future of Retail report found that an overwhelming 92% of consumers still miss in-store shopping.

The evidence is also clear in the 28% of people who opt to pick up their purchases in-store or curbside rather than having them shipped to their doors. While 49% of shoppers who prefer pickup said they like it because they get their purchases faster, a notable 42% of those same shoppers prefer picking up their items simply because it’s an excuse to get out of the house.

Digital shopping experiences may be convenient, but after a year of staying home, customers are also itching to get back to stores. For retailers, this means there is ample opportunity to re-engage customers at their physical locations — especially for shoppers who order online and choose to pick up their purchases in-person, a hybrid channel called BOPIS.

Here’s a glimpse at what our Future of Retail report reveals about in-store shopping habits, and how to capitalize on this growing opportunity.

What customers miss most and expect from in-store shopping experiences

“There is an inherent joy in shopping in person,” says Megan Karande, Product Marketing Manager for Square for Retail. Our research reveals just how much customers miss the delight of the in-store experience.

Of the 92% of shoppers who said they miss shopping in person at stores, 47% miss browsing, 44% miss getting out of the house, and 41% miss the instant gratification of getting their purchase right away.
what shoppers miss

Keep in mind that online and in-person customers aren’t mutually exclusive categories; some of the same customers who enjoy shopping on your website also miss visiting your store. For instance, 26% of shoppers who choose to pick up online orders say they shop in-store after picking up their items. While it’s important to improve the digital experience for the connected customer, even those who interact with your brand via digital channels may also be yearning for an in-person experience.

The traditional in-store shopping journey has never been solely about convenience or speed. Brick-and-mortar stores play major roles in the community as hubs that foster casual relationships and face-to-face social interactions. “Stores aren’t just places to buy things,” Karande says. “They are part of the communities they serve. A lot of consumers miss the interaction of going to stores — and they want to get out of the house, too.”

As vaccines roll out and businesses reopen, you can connect more with shoppers in your stores by implementing a few key strategies.

How to make in-store shopping worthwhile for your retail customers

To re-engage shoppers in-store, businesses need to bring back the benefits and thrills of shopping in person. Our research reveals five main ways that retailers can create an atmosphere where customers can fulfill their desire to shop.

In-store measures to protect customers and employees

It’s not surprising that 88% of shoppers want to see measures related to preventing the spread of COVID-19. But while you’ve likely been operating this way for months, the way you communicate your approach is key to making the shopping experience comfortable and enjoyable.

While shoppers do miss the in-person experience, many will feel nervous and uncomfortable about re-entering stores. Your customers may be battling with feelings of anxiety or guilt about shopping at your store rather than online. Visiting a retail store now requires additional thought, precautions, and decisions — mental baggage that can take away from the thrill of shopping. Posting clear and abundant signage about the measures you’re taking to protect customers can help alleviate guilt and make shoppers feel more at ease with their decision to leave the house.

Make it easier for your customers to enjoy their visit by removing some of the mental burden for them. Ensure your staff is wearing PPE, which 45% of shoppers want to see provided to make them feel safer when visiting physical stores. Offer sanitized or disposable baskets at key points like entrances, exits, and doors, and lay out predetermined paths for standing in line. Nearly one in three consumers want to see retailers implement plexiglass shields to protect both staff members and customers, which can be installed at areas of frequent interaction, like checkout counters.

Communicate about safety measures throughout your store so customers can feel more secure when indulging in the shopping experience.

Get creative with your merchandising while sticking to social distancing guidelines

Social distancing guidelines mean that physical space is a precious resource, but new merchandising strategies can help you display your products in a way that’s appealing and compelling to customers.

Try arranging popular products or special sale items at curbside pickup areas, making it easy for customers to add them when they pick up their online purchases. Pair complementary products together in the same display — like candles and chocolates or sweatpants and throw blankets — to up the chance of discovery.

To open up space indoors, reduce the number of displays on the floor and switch out the products on display more frequently. This not only allows you to rotate different products into the spotlight and keep the experience fresh, but fewer displays can help alleviate analysis paralysis in your customers — a phenomenon in which seeing more options can make customers feel paralyzed at the idea of choosing (in some cases opting to walk away with nothing at all). Narrow the options on display to put customers at ease and reduce decision fatigue.

Tap into senses like smell, sound, and sight in your merchandising strategy. For instance, you can add elements to decrease customer anxiety, like soft lighting or cool color palettes. Consider using scented air fresheners to elicit a particular mood. Try tailoring your in-store music to reduce stress and foster positive emotions.

Offer virtual experiences in your store

In-store virtual experiences can help you make shopping more immersive. Consider offering appointment-based shopping to limit store capacity and allow customers to try out products since you’ll have time to sanitize between appointments. You could have customers choose items on an iPad in the store, and then bring out what they select so they can experience them in a more contained way.

Discourage walk-ins from touching products by providing product samples and demonstrations, along with leveraging QR codes. For example, a customer browsing for camping tents could use their phone to scan a QR code next to a tent on the shelf, and pull up information about the product on your website or an online video showing the tent in use. This can provide customers a convenient and low-touch way to interact with elements in your store or see products in action.

Our Future of Retail report found that 37% of Millennial and Gen Z shoppers are interested in window shopping using QR codes, but only 28% of retailers are planning on rolling it out this year, offering a clear opportunity for retailers to invest in this technology.

Redesign your store layout to take customers on a delightful journey

One thing customers miss is the ability to stroll casually through the aisles. For some shoppers, choosing in-store pickup gives them a reason to come to the store in the first place. For those who visit a store without ordering online first, a full 37% say they don’t have a plan for exactly what they want to buy.

Customers want to browse, so make it easy for them to do it.

This means rethinking your store layout to promote socially distant browsing, which over one in three consumers want to see from retailers to feel comfortable shopping in person. Remove impulse purchases from the checkout counter and other point-of-sale (POS) areas to clear up space and keep lines moving smoothly. Move these items to a section where there’s more space and less movement, indicating that it’s okay for customers to linger.

Guide customer behavior and foot traffic using clear signage. In 2020, many stores have followed IKEA’s model for creating one-way traffic patterns with floor arrows. Arrange displays, shelving, and dividers to craft a one-directional flow from entrance to exit.

As an exercise, imagine your store as an attraction (think museum or aquarium), and ask yourself a few questions.

  • When a customer enters, do they see signage that welcomes them and suggests where to go first?
  • Can you direct them to an eye-catching display?
  • From there, what can you put in place to grab their attention next?

The goal is to make the customer’s journey engaging from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave.

Treat your customers to in-store discounts

One unchanging truth in retail: Customers love a good deal. Of those who miss shopping, 28% reported that they miss the in-store discounts. Receiving a product sample, physical coupon, discount offer, or promotional giveaway brings a feeling of instant gratification, especially when it’s something shoppers can touch. In particular, offering rewards for repeat customers — like through a loyalty program or referral deals — is a great way to build customer loyalty.

Display special in-store offers close to pickup areas to engage customers who come to get their purchases and are itching for a bit more. Promote in-store deals online for the digital shoppers looking for an enticing reason to get out.

Remember that although customers want to shop in person, they may feel stress or insecurity about doing so. In-store offers can make it feel worthwhile to leave their houses to come to the store, rather than opting for delivery.

Bring back the thrill of in-store shopping

Retailers have seen a surge in online shopping, but our research indicates that digital experiences are an essential complement to in-person experiences, not a replacement. It’s likely that some of your customers are clicking ‘add to cart’ while also wishing they were shopping at your physical store.

Your customers are actively looking for reasons to participate in the in-person shopping experience again. For many, that means opting for curbside pickup with a goal to pop into your store once they arrive. As a retailer, you’re in a position to provide the right environment to welcome customers who are picking up purchases by re-engaging shoppers in stress-free and fulfilling ways.